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Jean Asselborn on the Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of the Extermination Camps

Interviewee : Jean Asselborn

Interviewer : Michael Knigge, Deutsche Welle World

Date of Interview : 27-01-2005

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Ahead of the Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and President of the Council of the EU, Jean Asselborn, emphasised the role of international organisations in an interview with "Deutsche Welle World".

"Democracy and Peace Take a Lot of Hard Work"

Should the EU play more of a role in remembering the Holocaust? Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister and current President of the Council of the European Union, told DW-World what he thinks.

DW-World: Europe is currently marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp. Does the EU have a role to play in this, or is the process of remembering and coming to terms with the past something every country has to do differently?

Jean Asselborn: The EU is, of course, an important factor. It came into being along with the UN in the wake of WWII and one of its tasks is to prevent such disasters from ever happening again. How could an entire nation be seduced by barbarity on that scale? A nation such as Germany was at the time, the nation that produced Schiller, Goethe, Beethoven and Einstein.

There are photographs at Yad Vashem memorial institute in Jerusalem that show women and children standing in front of a mass grave, looking down into it. Then they're forced to undress, before being shot themselves.

As EU citizens, we have to ask ourselves why this was allowed to happen in Germany. And ensuring that it never happens again is our primary mission.

Education is the best preventative measure at our disposal. We need to learn tolerance and respect. Being different, having a different view of the world is not a provocation, and most definitely not in Europe. It's an enrichment.

Last but not least, sometimes we need international bodies like the UN and the EU to help protect countries from themselves so they don't succumb to barbarity.

But despite the UN and the EU, a similar disaster occurred in Rwanda. And people in the Congo and the Balkans have also been persecuted and murdered because of their  race and nationality.

But what would the world look like without the UN and the EU? We have to bear in mind that  these organizations cannot guarantee democracy and peace. They take a lot of hard work, too.

DW-World: Many countries and cities have memorials for the victims of the Holocaust. Given that you believe the EU has a role to play in remembering the Holocaust, do you think the EU should set up a central memorial center for the whole of Europe?

Jean Asselborn: A memorial center for Shoah victims was recently unveiled in Paris. There are enough memorials across Europe, that people are aware of, even if they have never seen them in person. When they hear the names Treblinka, Auschwitz and Belsen-Belsen, they know exactly what they stand for and they can grieve for the people who suffered there. 

Our job is to make sure it never happens again.

DW-World: Remembering the victims of the Holocaust is closely tied up with the struggle against anti-Semitism. Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish congress, has said that Germany understandably does more than other countries. He feels anti-Semitism is less of a threat in Germany than elsewhere. Is Europe doing enough to battle this threat?

Jean Asselborn: That's a good question. It's a very specific challenge in Germany. But Germany is by no means the only country in Europe facing the problem. It's an underlying threat in other countries, too.

I believe all Palestinians should be given the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. And all Israelis should spend two days in Gaza. Then they would realize that the Israelis' need for security and the Palestinians' need for dignity can only be achieved peacefully.

Peace is a prerequisite for preserving security and human dignity. This principle doesn't only apply to Europe and European history.  What Auschwitz has taught us is that tolerance and respect are crucial, and being able to be, think and live differently are basic human rights that need to be enshrined in our constitutions -- including the European Constitution that will hopefully come into force by late 2006.

DW-World: Would you support a ban on the National Democratic Party (NPD)?

Jean Asselborn: Obviously it's not my place to get involved with German domestic matters. But my instinct is to say that no German politician has a right to deny the Holocaust ever happened. It's a insult to human dignity to even suggest this, and it can also be very misleading to young people.

As a private individual rather than a politician, I would say that Holocaust denial should be banned in Germany. But other countries are also facing dangerous right-wing movements that need to be contained. We can't go about denying history. We have to take measures against that tendency, and Germany's specific history calls for specific measures. In my opinion, a ban might well be the best way forward.

This page was last modified on : 08-02-2005

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